If you’re new to Singapore, knowing these five things will help you more quickly find an ideal home.
If you’re new to Singapore, there are many things about our housing market that may surprise you. Before you decide to rent, do familiarise yourself with some basic concepts.
Things are quite different here, given the high percentage of home owners (over 92 per cent of the population), and the unique geographical features:
1. The Security Deposit is Negotiable
Most of the time, the security deposit is one month for one year of lease (or half a month’s rent for six months lease). However, this is not fixed – you can actually negotiate this with the landlord. The reverse is also true; exceptionally cautious landlords may demand a higher deposit.
Note that, unlike many other countries, there’s no need for the landlord to keep the security deposit in an escrow account. They can keep it in their personal account.
The security deposit is typically returned to you within seven days of the end of your lease.
2. The Tenancy Agreement (TA) is Preceded by a Letter of Intent (LOI)
There are two steps to securing your lease.
The first is to send a signed Letter of Intent (LOI), which announces your intention to rent the property under certain terms and conditions (negotiate these with the landlord first).
After this, you will sign the Tenancy Agreement (TA), which gives you the lease.
The LOI is accompanied by a good faith deposit of one month’s’ rent (it counts as your rent for the first month). Should you pull out of the agreement before signing the subsequent TA, this deposit is forfeited.
(If the landlord pulls out before the TA, however, they must refund the deposit within the time specified in the LOI. This is usually stated as three days).
Never sign the LOI and send the deposit, until you are happy with the terms. It is very difficult to change the terms of your lease, after you’ve signed the LOI. You should also have the landlord state, in writing, that they won’t add any new terms to the TA which haven’t been included in the LOI.
3. There are Potentially Two Property Agents in the Deal
In Singapore, a property agent cannot represent both landlord and tenant. If you like (it’s not mandatory), you can have your own property agent represent you as a tenant.
Your agent will act in your best interest, and conduct checks of the house, the landlord’s background, prices in the area, etc. to get you the best deal.
The commission is generally one month’s rent for every 12 months on the lease (or half a month’s rent for a six month lease). This amount is not fixed, and is negotiable.
In addition, if your rental is above S$2,500 per month, it is – by convention – your landlord who has to pay both agents. If the rent is below this amount, you should each pay your respective agents.
Warning: some landlords will sneak behind your agent’s back, and agree to give you the lease if you cut your agent out of the agreement. Apart from being an unethical move, your agent may take legal action if this is discovered.
4. Expatriates Should Have a Diplomatic Clause
Your TA should include a diplomatic clause. This allows you to break your lease if you are transferred out of Singapore, are no longer working here, or are ordered to leave by the government.
This usually requires two months’ notice, as well as presentation of the relevant documents.
5. The Landlord is Liable for Maintenance Costs (up to a Fixed Amount)
When it comes to maintenance costs, such as plumbing or fixing the electrical wiring, landlords are liable for up to a fixed sum. Anything beyond the fixed sum is paid by you.
This is open to negotiation, there’s no established law on this. As such, be sure to negotiate it with your landlord before signing the LOI. Also, do clarify the details of which repair services will be used (will it be your landlord who calls the repair service, or you?)
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By Ryan Ong
Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.